UFC 187 preview: Daniel Cormier vs Anthony Johnson

By Jeff Wagenheim
May 20, 2015

Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.


The light heavyweight championship bout at the top of the UFC 187 marquee is not the big-E Event that it once was. But it’s a better fight.

There's no way to minimize the devastating effect of losing Jon Jones from a pay-per-view fight card. He’s not merely the greatest 205-pounder in mixed martial arts but also the greatest of all fighters, pound-for-pound, on the planet. A strong case can be made that he’s the best ever. He is loved (for his dominance and its gracefulness). He is hated (for his dominance and its gracelessness). Whether you watch his fights to cheer on his pre-eminence or to root for his demise, you can’t take your eyes off him.

But you won’t be seeing Jones this weekend. This disappearing act is brought to you courtesy of last month’s disappearing act. After surrendering to a felony charge some 30 hours after an alleged hit-and-run car accident that injured another driver, Jones was suspended indefinitely by the UFC and stripped of his belt. That brass-and-leather strap will be on the line on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET, PPV) when Jones’s scheduled challenger, Anthony Johnson, faces the ex-champ’s most recent conquest, Daniel Cormier.

Nothing against what Jones vs. Johnson might have been“Rumble” has wrecked his last two opponents in the first round, and his ferocious right fist might very well have found its way to Jones’s chin. But that would have been a longshot considering how long Jones is, how elusive, how untouchable, how great. He’s never been beaten and only once been tested (by the last victim of Johnson’s fistic fury, Alexander Gustafsson, but do not attempt that MMA math at home). No one knows how a fight is going to turn out until it’s fought, but going in, there was little reason to expect that Johnson would have made Jones break a sweat.

Cormier vs. Johnson is a different story. Even absent the star power of Jonny “Bones,” this is a title fight that promises just what we are entitled to hope for in such an occurrence: a bout in which it is not unreasonable to foresee either man walking out of the cage with the golden ring clutched in his fist.

Cormier (15-1), the two-time Olympic wrestler, has looked indomitable in every outing other than his last. Back in January, Jones handled him without much trouble, their bout a letdown following a heated leadup that famously included a brawl during a press conference in the MGM Grand hotel lobby. Now comes a second chance for the 36-year-old who stands at No. 2 in the SI.com light heavyweight rankings.

No. 1 in that tally is Johnson. (Jones, while suspended, is ineligible for our rankings.) “Rumble” (19-4) has won nine straight fights, the last four at 205 pounds. The 29-year-old has spent time everywhere from welterweight to heavyweight, chronically missing weight in the lighter divisions. He even was released by the UFC three years ago because of his troubles on the scale. But now he’s found a home ... in the UFC, at 205 pounds, for his fists. He’s been a slayer at light heavy, earning his title shot by snuffing out ones that appeared to be right at the tips of the fingers of Gustafsson and Phil Davis.

In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of Saturday night’s five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1, starting at 8 p.m. ET, and the event’s first three bouts will be available on the UFC Fight Pass online service at 6:30. The main card also will be screened by Fathom Events at movie theaters nationwide.


By yanking Jon Jones out of the main event, the UFC did not entirely eliminate the specter of legal wrangling and accusations of bad behavior.

As recently as six months ago, Anthony Johnson was under suspension by the promotion after the mother of two of his children took out a restraining order, claiming the fighter had threatened her through his friends and two years earlier had knocked out two of her teeth in a domestic dispute. The alleged victim’s civil case was dismissed in November, however, after she withdrew her accusations.

Whenever this case has been brought up to Dana White, the UFC president has been dismissive of the matter, citing its legal resolution. Well, as anyone who has paid attention to our culture’s domestic violence epidemic knows, the discontinuation of court proceedings does not necessarily signal that nothing happened. It is not uncommon for victims to withdraw accusations against their abusers. That is not to say Johnson is guilty in this case, just that there’s surely more to the situation than what we’ve heard.

Let’s not forget that Johnson was convicted in a domestic violence case involving a different woman back in 2010, for which he served three years’ probation and underwent counseling. Does that establish a pattern that lends credence to the more recent accusations? Or does it cast Johnson in a light of vulnerability to such charges by a woman with whom he has an antagonistic relationship?

We don’t know. So we’re not passing judgment. We’re simply pointing out the clouds hovering over the landscape of this fight.

Why be so evenhanded in this case, after so much vitriol was directed at Floyd Mayweather in the leadup to his fight with Manny Pacquiao? Fair or not, it comes down to demeanor. Mayweather is a serial abuser who is unrepentant, his “you ain’t got nothing on me” attitude disgustingly smug. Johnson, by contrast, is softspoken and humble in public, a gentleman in every appearance during the leadup to this fight. Does that make “Rumble” less likely than “Money” to be a woman beater? Of course not. But it’s understandable that public opinion would come down harder on one than the other.

Last five fights

1/3/15 Jon Jones L UD 5
5/24 Dan Henderson W Tech sub 3
2/22/14 Patrick Cummins W TKO 1
10/19/13 Roy Nelson W UD 3
4/20/13 Frank Mir W UD 3

1/24/15 Alexander Gustafsson W TKO 1
7/26/14 Antonio Rogerio Nogueira W KO 1
4/26/14 Phil Davis W UD 3
1/18/14 Mike Kyle W KO 1
3/23/13 Andrei Arlovski W UD 3

Tale of the tape


March 20, 1979


March 6, 1984

Lafayette, La.


Dublin, Ga.

San Jose, Calif


Boca Raton, Fla.













* Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

Other numbers to count on

10: Knockdowns by Anthony Johnson during his UFC career, fifth-most in the promotion’s history, according to FightMetric stats.

57.7: Takedown accuracy by Johnson, 10th best in UFC history. (Cormier, the two-time Olympic wrestler, is at just 42 percent, but that number is skewed by his 1-for-8 effort against Jon Jones.)

13: Knockouts by Johnson among his 19 career wins. He knocked out his two most recent opponents, three of his last four, six of his last eight.

Greatest hits

Daniel Cormier manhandles a legend of the sport:

Anthony Johnson pulls the upset to earn title shot:


Johnson has a robust wrestling base, but he’s not at the same level as Cormier on the mat. Daniel has developed his striking game, but the longer the fight stays standing, the longer he’s in peril of being dizzied by the frightening power of “Rumble.”

So each of these fighters must be mindful that techniques in their arsenal that usually are strengths might best be shelved on this night. Or at least set up carefully.

Johnson doesn’t have to be the wrestler Cormier is, though. He just needs to be confident enough in his takedown defense that he can fully commit to his power strikes without fear of opening himself to being planted on his backside. And if he does get put down, he needs to use his explosiveness to quickly regain his feet. Every moment “Rumble” spends on the mat is a wasted opportunity.

Conversely, “DC” need not engage in rock-’em-sock-’em exchanges to be in good standing with “Rumble.” Cormier moves well for a former heavyweight, and the more he can be a disappearing target, thereby putting his head-hunting opponent off balance, the bigger his presence becomes. He’s good at mixing it up, striking and grappling, and in this fight his goal should be to leave Johnson feeling mixed up.

The odds

Cormier is the betting favorite, with a money line ranging from -124 (bet $124 to win $100) to -140 (bet $140 to win $100) at various sportsbooks. The line on Johnson ranges from +105 (bet $100 to win $105) to +118 (bet $100 to win $118).


A little over a year ago, when Johnson stepped in with Phil Davis, I picked “Rumble” to lose. He dominated that fight. Then, in January, I picked Alexander Gustafsson to outclass him. Instead, Johnson wrecked the big Swede. I should have learned by now, but no, I just can’t go with “Rumble” this time, either. Cormier is smart enough to avoid a firefight. He has his eyes on the prize, and doesn’t care if he has to grind his way to it. Cormier by decision. 

Fighting Words

“This is his second opportunity at a title shot. So he’s going to bring everything that he can bring to win that title. People get second chances in life. And this is his second chance, just like it’s my second chance in life when I returned to the UFC. And you see what has happened so far as me, starting from the bottom and basically working my way to the top?”

— Anthony Johnson, reflecting on the second chances afforded both him and his opponent, during a UFC media teleconference

“The first time, the buildup was insane, with all the stuff that Jon [Jones] and I went through -- fighting at that press conference and stuff. The buildup was insane, and it wore on me. And I was so emotionally attached to that promotion and that fight that I think at a point the energy was just drained out of me.”

— Daniel Cormier, during the same teleconference, speaking about his first title fight

The Rest Of The Card

Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort, middleweight championship; Donald Cerrone vs. John Makdessi, lightweight; Travis Browne vs. Andrei Arlovski, heavyweight; Joseph Benavidez vs. John Moraga, flyweight.

Preliminary card (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): John Dodson vs. Zach Makovsky, flyweight; Dong Hyun Kim vs. Josh Burkman, welterweight; Uriah Hall vs. Rafael Natal, middleweight; Rose Namajunas vs. Nina Ansaroff, strawweight.

Online prelims (6:30 p.m., UFC Fight Pass): Mike Pyle vs. Colby Covington, welterweight; Islam Makhachev vs. Leo Kuntz, lightweight; Juston Scoggins vs. Josh Sampo, flyweight.

Programming Notes

Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the main-card telecast on pay-per-view as well as prelims on Fox Sports 1 and the UFC Fight Pass. An hour-long postfight show begins at 1:30 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

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